3d-printed dresses. BEEING HUMAN. Image by Elaine Chiew
           Ever wondered how technology such as virtual reality might interface with or enhance a museum-going experience? Would it add value in terms of multiplicity of information or aiding of imagination, or would it demand a technological savvy on the part of the museum-goer that could complicate the museum-going experience or confuse the average layperson? 
            Imagine this then. Looking at an archaeological site, you’re about to embark on a virtual reality dig to uncover artefacts from the Singapore Temasek period (An Excavation Through Time). 

An Excavation Through Time. Image courtesy of iMMERSiVELY.

             You’re a conservator, and a Mixed-Reality Microsoft HoloLens will guide you on how to recognise an artwork’s damaged areas and which tools to use (Project Insight). 

Project Insight. Image courtesy of HelloHolo.

               A gigapixel map of Clark Quay in Singapore will allow you to zoom in at high resolution and look into public sculptures or identifiable historic spots, giving you information all at a single zoom and tap (A Harbour of History). 

A Harbour in History. Image courtesy of 360VR Asia.

              No longer do you have to rely on your own paltry imagination, while looking at a cultural artefact such as a Chinese antique bed, at a tap, you would also see the hologram of the opium-smoker lounging upon it on your phone and be provided with an aggregate of curated information from a variety of sources (Museum Experiential Guide). 

Opium Room. Museum Experiential Guide. Image courtesy of DigiMagic and NTU School of Art, Design & Media.

          Admire 3-D printed dresses, powder compacts, tiaras inspired by traditional peranakan designs, try them on (Beeing Human). 

Beeing Human. Image courtesy of Baëlf Designs.

3d-Printed Powder Compact (foreground) and peranakan inspired shoe (background). Beeing Human. Image by Elaine Chiew

         Hear a ‘multiplicity’ of viewpoints about an exhibition or artwork and make up your own mind which you find most persuasive or where your trusted instincts and biases lie (Multiplicity).  

         Ask William Farquhar (who functions a bit like Siri but through Whatsapp or Facebook Messsenger) why he collected the 200 specimens of flora and fauna or commissioned drawings of them, now housed and exhibited on a rotational basis at the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) (Ask William).

Multiplicity. Image courtesy of Big Red Button.

These are the seven digitally-led projects (project names in brackets as provided above) that will be on show at DigiMuse Presents (info below), currently on show at National Museum Singapore (NMS). These seven projects were selected by NMS out of numerous entries during the inaugural Open Call process held in January through April 2018.  They provide unique testing grounds of NMS’ ambitious and cutting-edge initiative, funded through the Singapore Government, for what programme director Jervais Choo identifies as an exploration of ‘the intersection of technology and culture’ that ‘opens a gateway for discovering our past to inspire future possibilities.” 

He says, 

“by incorporating a spectrum of digital technologies to communicate our heritage and history in new perspectives, the innovative projects featured in DigiMuse Presents are both educational and enthralling, demonstrating potential instances of how we may interact meaningfully with Singapore’s rich culture and heritage enabled by frontier technologies.”

NMS, considered a leading regional center where conservation efforts and initiatives are concerned, propels itself to the forefront of digital innovation within the cultural sector through the DigiMuse programme, rendering it on par with similar European and Australia/New Zealand initiatives.  Choo explains that entries for Open Call made proposals by choosing one of two categories: The Museum Experience (dealing more with interaction with the public within a museum experience) or Arts & Creatives (more art creation focussed).  The overall objectives of NMS were manifold: not merely about enhancing the museum-going experience, but also aims to take the experience and enlarge it beyond museum walls; to involve different specialisations and collaborate in building a wider ecosystem of designers, software engineers and programmers, technology start-ups, cultural workers, artists, curators and institutions, even historians and other providers of content; to spearhead education in different sectors, such as conservators in training; to encourage experimentation in the use of digital technologies in museum experiences, just to name a few.  

Who then are the innovative digital players in this exhibition who developed these prototypes? 360VR Asia which built the gigapixel A Harbour in History (an aerial view stitched together from thousands of high-resolution photos) is a Singaporean company specializing in 360 degree virtual reality content; for example, it provided the 360 degree viewing content for the Singapore Biennale 2011.  iMMERSiVELY, the Singaporean virtual reality technology start-up founded by Lionel Chok, was behind An Excavation in Time, led by project leader Daniel Soo, who said his inspiration for the archaeological virtual reality ‘dig’ stemmed from his long-held interests in archaeology and history. The Museum Experiential Guide was developed as a collaboration between local multimedia production house Digimagic and Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media. Beeing Human was designed and created by ‘fashion-forward’ design label Baëlf Design, while Big Red Button, another home-grown Singaporean tech with a marked corporate social manifesto, presented Multiplicity. Unified Inbox, the developer of Ask William, is an internet of things (IoT) messaging and artificial intelligence, while HelloHollo, which developed Project Insight, works to provide access to Microsoft HoloLens and pioneers mixed reality solutions for commercial application in Singapore. 

              An exhibition like this is a chance to have your opinion as a layperson matter, as these technologies are prototypes being tested for a short duration of one month with the museum-going public, to gauge responses and ease of use.  I certainly found the exhibition entertaining and thought-provoking: how will different, more advanced and improved editions of these technologies shape our museum-going experience? What sort of content gets formulated onto these technologies, to add layer and depth to information already provided by the museum? And who gets to decide, what processes are put in place to vet, said content? How would different age groups be taken into account, given acknowledged differences in terms of technological savvy and levels of comfort? These are but some of the fascinating initial inquiries sparked by the exhibition itself. 

  From 3-d fashion technology to going artefact hunting through VR, a museum experience has never been so interactive or novel and fun. Let’s hope (wink) you won’t be more enamoured with tapping buttons and reaching out for a haptic experience with a shovel than with the artwork or archaeological artefact itself.

Details :  DigiMuse Presents is on show at National Museum Singapore from 4 Aug to 26 Aug, 2018.
  More information can be found in the DigiMuse Presents Brochure which also provides a map as to where the projects are located.